Big Data: A Key to Improved Trucking Profitability

By Terry Kline, CIO, Navistar, Inc., Parent of International Trucks

Terry Kline, CIO, Navistar, Inc., Parent of International Trucks

Big data is offering truck fleets expanded opportunity to enhance their operational ef­fectiveness. The combination of open-archi­tecture telematics, connectivity and analytics can yield many benefits, including increased on-time delivery, better fuel economy and improved vehicle uptime.

Today’s commercial trucks and buses are being equipped with electronic control modules that regulate engines and other components, and telematics systems that regularly mine these modules for insights into the vehicle’s health. Data from these systems can be delivered wirelessly, in near real time, to both truck drivers and the fleet managers who oversee vehicles’ day-to-day operations. And analytics on this data—conducted by both fleets and manufacturers—can deliver added insight and value that makes each fleet more successful.

Up-to-the-minute health reports enabled by telematics data provide fleet managers with advance clues on the status of vehicle systems, giving them a heads-up on potential issues and their severity, and identifying the appropriate cor­rective actions. Health reports, alerts and other notifications can be delivered via email or text to computers, smartphones and tablets, making it easier for drivers and fleet maintenance managers to receive and act on critical updates.

By gaining advance visibility into potential maintenance issues, then crunching the data to evaluate the issues’ severity and appropriate next steps, the combination of telematics and analytics can save fleets significant money. Fleets can also schedule maintenance during planned downtime, avoiding service visits while the truck is scheduled to be in use.

Gaining Added Value from Open-Architec­ture Telematics

The value of telematics is further enhanced when fleet man­agers are able to monitor their entire fleet through one single remote diagnostics portal, enabling direct vehicle-by-vehicle data comparisons. Most truck makers have made this harder than it needs to be, because they have worked out an exclu­sive deal with a given telematics provider; yet few fleets are composed of trucks from just one maker. By contrast, an open-architecture approach to telematics feeds all the data from the multiple truck brands in a customer’s fleet into the same system, offering the potential for comprehensive fleet maintenance, prognostics and coordinated maintenance.

Our proprietary alert algorithm processes more than 20,000 combinations of vehicle makes, models and fault codes, and enables us to predict failure rates for specifica­tion combinations. This enables early detection of potential issues at a vehicle-specific level, and facilitates comprehen­sive guidance on service schedules and preventive mainte­nance. Ultimately, an online portal will be used to integrate telematics data with additional GPS data and parts inven­tory information in order to locate the nearest dealer service location where the necessary part is in stock and ready for installation. All of this contributes to reduced maintenance cost and improved uptime—in some cases, improving uptime by as much as 35 percent.

“Analysis of telematics data is accelerating the industry’s adoption of new and advanced technologies”

Another benefit of open architecture analytics is a level playing field for improvement opportu­nities. Many big fleets already have their own in-house analytics teams. Now, smaller fleets can have the opportunity to sub­scribe to analytics as a service, without a significant invest­ment. Their vehicles’ performance can be benchmarked against best-in-class, and insights can be provided to fleet managers that enable them to optimize the way in which they use their vehicles.

Using Data to Tailor Products to Customer Needs

Analytics can also illuminate whether customers are using the product that is right for their needs. By feeding in fac­tors like miles driven per month, fuel used per hour, and hours driven per month, different “use clusters” can be identified among multiple vehicles that display similar use patterns. International can determine the need for tailored features and components that reflect the specific demands that users place on each vehicle, including optimization for weight, load and reliability.

Analytics also enhances the potential for tailored truck manufacturing. New specs can be developed for best value, energy efficiency and ease of driver use. One can envision a truck that is customized to the needs not just of a specific fleet or application, but of a specific driver. The difference between this and traditional custom truck manufacturing is that user hunches about the right features and benefits are now in a position to be backed up with solid, real-world data about the way in which the vehicle is actually being used.

So far, we’ve focused on data generated by the vehicle. Two-way communications in which external data is sent to the vehicle, as well—also provides tremendous opportunity. Much like mobile phones, today’s engines can benefit from frequent software updates and recalibra­tions, and will soon be able to receive these updates remotely. Over-the-Air reprogramming, a service first an­nounced by International Trucks, will enable a driver or fleet manager to utilize a mobile interface to initiate repro­gramming of a truck’s engine control module. This quick procedure can be performed at the customer’s facility over a safe, secure Wi-Fi connection. Benefits like improved fuel economy can thus be achieved without the necessity of scheduling multi­ple service visits. Over-the-Air reprogramming can also poten­tially be used to recalibrate engines for new usage patterns, such as moun­tainous terrains or heavier loads, in order to optimize vehicle efficiency. Over the longer term, Over-the-Air reprogram­ming lays the groundwork for a pipeline of connected vehi­cle services such as calibration updates for specific engines and other components, body control module updates and future cellular capabilities.

In summary, thanks to growing big data infrastructure and the increased reporting frequency of telematics devices, fleets will be able to capture an increasing wealth of data, generate an exponentially greater volume of insights and better tailor vehicles to user needs. This will lead to more efficient and productive driving, and ultimately, help vehicle fleets grow and become more profitable.

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